SB Nation has released a final version of NFL Power Rankings for the 2011-12 NFL season, and while the Super Bowl champion New York Giants are on top and the runner-up New England Patriots are next, the Chicago Bears are in a confusing spot at No. 16. They are listed as the ninth-best NFC team, behind the Philadelphia Eagles (No. 15), Dallas Cowboys (No. 13), Detroit Lions (No. 10), Atlanta Falcons (No. 9), San Francisco 49ers (No. 6), New Orleans Saints (No. 5), Green Bay Packers (No. 3) and New York Giants. Does this mean that Jay Cutler, Matt Forte, Brian Urlacher and company are truly an underdog to make the playoffs next season, or merely that they crashed and burned so hard to end the season that they don't deserve a what-if analysis? SB Nation's Joel Thorman explains their placement:
16. Chicago Bears (8-8, LW: 24): Goal No. 1: Find a backup quarterback. Chicago would've been in the playoffs if they had a competent backup quarterback. This is a good team that should challenge the Lions for the second spot in the NFC North behind the Packers.
As most would expect, the ranking is more an indictment of Caleb Hanie and the Bears' jettisoned front office then it is a referendum on Jay Cutler or the team's prospects heading into next season. Now the attention turns to the 2012 NFL Draft, where the team will look to add talent on the offensive line and at the wide receiver spot. If they can manage to shore up the offense and create depth to help them get through the season, expect the Bears to compete for a quality playoff spot next year.
For more NFL news and notes, head over to SB Nation Pro Football, and stay tuned to SB Nation Chicago for more Bears updates and analysis. For more in-depth analysis of the Bears, visit Windy City Gridiron. Check out Mocking The Draft's prospect rankings for a look at the bigger NFL draft picture.